Another day of preparation: getting creative…

So just caught something on the news about why the city of New Orleans isn’t offering sand bags- something about the pumps and the sand ending up in the drains. Home Depot and Lowe’s have both sold out. We caught a shipment of mulch for 1.75 a bag at Home Depot and used this to help our friends at the Bell Artspace complex. Turns out they are NOT putting up the floodgates on the complex because there is no evacuation order. Seems short sighted given the flooding from Wednesday! So frustrating to know our friends will have to deal with more flooding and the damage that will be added to Wednesday’s damage.

Had 2 bags of red mulch for my garden that we put in front of the Community Book Center. Hoping for for the best.

Friday: Henrietta wondering about Barry, bulking up on protein!mm

So here’s a little update from Duchesne House this Friday morning. I’m hoping Henrietta’s protein boost of meal worms will strengthen her grip when she climbs up the tree to weather the storm. Enjoy and thank you for the positive thoughts and prayers!

FRIDAY July 12

We didn’t get the rain we expected last night. We know the rain will be heavy and that flooding is not only likely but assured. I went last night with a friend looking for sand bags and both Home Depot and Lowe’s we’re out. The city has not made any sand bags available in our Parish (Orleans). Seems strange that none are available when everything is saying we’re going to flood here in New Orleans with the Mississippi River due to rise to 19′ just 1 foot below flood stage. Doesn’t seem to allow for the imminent storm surge and heavy rainfall. Our 118 active pumps can handle 1 inch of rain the FIRST hour and 1/2 an inch every hour after not to make sand bags available yesterday when it was a perfect day to get these set in vulnerable areas. Seems like a misstep to me. But then this is my take as a new-ish resident having helped folks deal with flooding last Wednesday. We have worked with the aftermath of Katrina and have done so for the last 13 years and are very sensitive to the human impact of flooding. (Sorry, having trouble uploading the Henrietta video- will keep working)

Duchesne House update: Local flooding ahead of scheduled storms; [alternate headline: NEIGHBORS: A Mardi Gras Indian Big Chief, an RSCJ Nun and a Mexican Immigrant]

Dear Friends, I realize news travels fast and that fast news travels even faster and not necessarily at human speeds. Thank you to those who have reached out after hearing about the flooding in New Orleans after a heavy morning thunderstorm that dropped close to 10″ of water very quickly, here’s what we had on Bayou Road at 8:30am when I sloshed next door to check on our neighbors at the Community Book Center:

Luckily the water did not make it into the Book Center. Mama Vera and Mama Jen and Baba Dave stayed home. It wasn’t safe to drive. The streets were flooded. Again. We watched as the water rose across the street and ask our neighbors if they needed help getting items off the floor. It was still raining. Hard.

And a bit later just BEFORE the tornado warning (with a water spout visible over the water at UNO- their university alert system warning students to take immediate shelter):

And then a bit later AFTER the tornado warning (I think that’s the step UP from tornado watch, but we don’t get tornadoes much in Cali):

There was a report in the evening news of ONE home on Bayou St. John hit by something, bayou water spout or land-ish tornado. It was an artist, his wife and their dog who were all safe but their art collection was destroyed as the roof was ripped off the home they had built after Katrina. That flooding.

That’s when I thought about a friend who lives next door to Chief David Montana. Her side of the street always floods and she’s on the first floor. I texted. She was fine she said and when I asked about Chief David she said his entire floor got flooded. Again. It’s sadly happened before. Sr. Bonnie called and offered to bring over our shop vacuum to help clean up. It’s a vacuum in our garage the students sometimes use to clean out the rental vans after their week with us, working. It’s also a wet vac. Handy, I thought to help clean up, maybe jimmy the drain spout with a water hose and make it a pump. Genius, I thought. So we loaded up our cars and drove the few blocks to Chief David’s house. Wow. We had to park our cars a block away because the street was too flooded to pass. Sr. Bonnie and I sloshed our way lugging our cleaning/pumping materials a block up to Chief David who must have had 4″ of water in his apartment. His neighbors had all scrambled to help each other lift items up to try and keep them wet- art pieces. It’s in the Bell Artspace building on Ursuline Street, once an Ursuline convent and school, now a cool artist building as our visitors and mission partners know so well.

So armed with a shop vac and an open hand, a Mardi Gras Big Chief, a Nun and a Mexican Immigrant got to work and helped our neighbors clean up.

We tried to get the media to help us out and see how crazy this was. It was a brand new building. With artists and senior citizens. Who were cleaning up on their own. Again. No one in building management came in and no one was responding. We thought maybe the media can help make sure they get this right. But it seemed like the news reporters were more focused reporting on roads, on the Sewerage and Water Board and on the pumps (which and how many were or weren’t working etc.) and the streets — which were flooded. Again. And people got flooded. Again. And lost belongings, and time and many relived unhappy memories of other floods. Again. Our visitors hear from our Mission partner, the Rev. Dr. Denise Graves about trauma, and the affect trauma has on an already vulnerable and traumatized community. She also shares about the resiliency of community and of tight knit neighbors and neighborhoods. So after a quick MacHardy’s chicken run and break thanks to Sr. Bonnie

We got back to work. Each time the shop vac filled we dumped out about 12 gallons of water. It took about a minute for the vacuum to fill. We emptied many, many, many shop vac buckets out Chief David’s window. The same window he describes to our students that used to be the window of his elementary school classroom when he was a little boy. He now lives in what was once his old math classroom from which he’d sometimes sneak out. Now he teaches kids about staying in school and learning more about their own cultures. That’s our friend, Big Chief David Montana. We filled and emptied a shop vac precariously perched on that old math window sill for about 3 hours until we got it done.

Tried to call the news to be in our photo op, but no word. So we moved on to help the neighbors:

This last gentleman is an amazing artist from Haiti who thankfully had all of his art pieces off the floor. Zoom in to see his work:

Another elderly gentleman with mobility challenges needed his home shop vacuumed. We managed to toss his saturated area rug out the window. Darn, I just remembered he asked me to make sure I helped close it before I left. I’m sure a neighbor helped him out. That’s what neighbors do.

There’s more to come and we should soon know more about Barry. We’ll post an update. Peace and apologies to our last group, our Summer Network Service project, Healthy Waters. We just can’t take a chance and want to ensure you all are safe, so please keep us and our neighbors in your thoughts and prayers. Stay tuned and we have so appreciated your support for our work here in New Orleans. We hope to have a viewing party for our August 5th Closing Party thanking all of our mission partners and neighbors for their amazing support. We’d love to have you tune in and help us say good-bye to Duchesne House for Volunteers on Bayou Road.

Thursday: being present to stories

Today we visited with Mr. Robert Green a resident of the Lower Ninth Ward, blocks from where a barge broke through the Industrial canal levee. He opened his home and his heart to us, sharing the hope he’s found after having his house swept away and watching his mother and his granddaughter lose their lives before getting rescued. We walked to the site where their house crashed into an oak tree. The tree bears a painting of a representation of that harrowing moment.

From there we visited the Lower Ninth Ward Living Museum and learned more about this forgotten neighborhood where Mr. Green says he wants to have more neighbors. The Living Museum is also home to the Leona Tate Foundation. Ms. Tate (along with Ruby Bridges) was one of the early children to suffer the brunt of the desegregation of schools in New Orleans.

It was awe inspiring to be in the presence of two amazingly courageous individuals who suffered so much and have lived their lives making the world a better place.

We returned to Duchesne House for a discussion and to continue our work on Race by watching Cracking the Codes: The System of Racial Inequity and then had our last meal together at the world famous Parkway Bakery for po’boys.

And we ended our day with the he girls exchanging their school gifts and our Closing Ceremony where they shared what light they’ll be taking back:

We say goodbye tomorrow morning and send our young leaders home with hearts stretched and a charge to not just share the information they learned but to inspire the transformation that our Sacred Heart education calls for. “Now that you know.”

Wednesday recap

We arrived back in New Orleans and stopped by Studio Be to finish up our Civil Rights day with New Orleans’ own artist BMike’s studio before coming back to Duchesne House for dinner and a wrap up conversation. It was a day filled with challenging images of injustice and the students engaged the conversation, sharing from their own perspectives. All agreed that conversations about race are difficult and yet necessary. We have one more full day tomorrow and will head to the Lower Ninth and visit the Living Museum. Some photos of the museum, Studio Be and our dinner gathering:

History is the Glue

A recap of the first part of the day by Mary, Maria and Bianca:

At dinner we were joined by Rev. Dr. Denise Graves who walked us through a debrief of Sunday’s visit to the Whitney Plantation, speaking to the systems involved in the institution of slavery. These conversations are deep and powerful and we always close with a song to lift our spirits and bring us together as a family. Here’s our song:

Mama Denise made me look at things in a new perspective. She made me realize there are multiple perspectives to look at in every story that are important. She helped me understand the weight of the lives lost throughout centuries of slavery and we talked about the humanity of each individual and the importance of seeing those killed as individuals, rather than a group, which inherently dehumanizes them. Mama Denise also listened to what everyone said and genuinely wanted to know what our story or opinion was. I love all the passion I saw in her and how wise she is. She is a very wise talented woman, she speaks multiple languages which is very impressive. I aspire to be as loving, confident, and intelligent as she is.

– Bianca

The French Marketplace

With such a long day yesterday and another road trip tomorrow to Mississippi, today we stay local and started our morning with a reflection engaging the idea of this immersion program being less about experiences and more about ENCOUNTERS. We then set off for a breakfast treat of beignets at the world famous Café du Monde and then some time in the French Marketplace before our 11am tour at the Presbytere to learn about hurricane Katrina and the New Orleans culture of Mardi Gras. We’ll visit the slave markers the city has set up to educate visitors to the reality slavery with New Orleans having the largest slave trading markets. The city has launched an app that chronicles this foundational experience– inviting moments of encounter.

Monday: Thensted Center, Grand Coteau

Today we got an early start, leaving New Orleans at 5:30am to drive to the Thensted Center in St. Landry Parish, about a 2 1/2 hour drive, past Baton Rouge and near Lafayette. The Thensted Center, named after Fr. Cornelius J. Thensted, SJ was established n 1974 by Sr. Margaret “Mike” Hoffman, RSCJ to further the outreach ministry of Fr. Thensted helping those in need. Today our Network students helped with the summer program, helping with math, art, life skills, and other activities. We’ll have lunch with the kids and then head to the Schools of the Sacred Heart (Academy of the Sacred Heart/Berchmans Academy) and visit their campus next door.

If you have not done so, please visit their website to learn more about this amazing program that works miracles on a shoestring budget and could use our support.

Thenstead Center, Grand Coteau

Today we worked with younger children. We played games with them and helped them with an art project. The kids were so happy and really made us all laugh and smile. I really enjoyed this and would definitely go back again. I’m glad I could help put a smile on the kids faces because it made me feel good about what I was doing. I am very grateful for what I have and I’m glad I can help the children have a good day.


We had a chance to work with children from Thenstead, which is in the lowest income neighborhood in the state of Louisiana. It was eye opening to see all the employees and managers of the school could do on such a small budget, and it was gratifying to see all the happy children have fun without complaining about anything. I am very grateful to be able to work with them and provide any help I could.


Today was an early morning, we woke up at 5am to go to Thenstead Camp in Grand Coteau. The children were adorable and very sweet. We were all technically camp counselors for the day, I had the opportunity of meeting a little boy named Tate also known as tatertot. I enjoyed seeing how much effort the adults were putting into the camp to make it the best experience for the children. Everyone was patient and loving, it was like a family. It was obvious they wanted what was best for the children. Next time I visit New Orleans I will definitely love to go back and visit.

– Bianca

Today we woke up around 5 and drove about 2 and 1/2 hours to Thenstead Center for their camp. We played board games with the kids, did Just Dance on the wii, an arts and crafts project and helped some of them with writing and math. The kids were ranging from 5-12 years old. The kids were laughing all the time and always had a smile on their faces. They kept asking us when they were going to see us again and it was so sad to say not for a while. When we were doing our arts and crafts they included yarn so I wrapped a piece of the yarn around my wrist. As soon as I did that all of the kids asked me to give them bracelets too so we all ended up with about 4 braclets. Then they had the idea of me to handcuff them with yarn and they showed me how strong they were and flexed there muscles for me. We saw a Sacred Heart school in the area and it was interesting to compare it to our school. For dinner we stopped at a truck stop and had really good food.


We left the Duchesne House today at 5:30am to drive to Grand Coteau. The Thensted Center we will be visiting is located in the St. Landry Parish. One of the poorest areas in Louisiana. Our Sacred Heart school is also located down the road. The children greet us with such joy. They are safe, engaged in all kinds of activities and loved by all of the staff. The day at the center went by so fast. It was hard to say goodbye. We decided we could all pitch in and do our part to help in some other way. They could really use funding. We got back in the car and traveled up the road around the corner from the sheep farm. There she stood: Grand Academy of the Sacred Heart, Grand Coteau. Lots of southern charm. The building and grounds are beautiful. Tall oak trees out front where the traditional graduation takes place. We walked the halls where a miracle took place and all of the RSCJ that helped educate so many students. The newly restored museum is amazing. Dinner at the King truck stop. I know that was a first for me.

-Colleen (Mrs. T)